San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Shuck is curating a Poem of the Day with San Francisco Public Library for every day during the COVID-19 pandemic. Check daily for new poetic offerings from assorted local poets.
Here is an archive of the previous Poems of the Day:
We the People
by SUSAN KITAZAWA
Tiana doesn’t like this
she hasn’t figured out
what to say.
you have been
caught and tagged
as one of
like a pet
don’t know what to say
Sometimes the snare
is hidden under
have such clean hair
have such rhythm
are so polite
cook food that’s
out of this world
get straight A’s
can shoot hoops
like no one else
live so close
to Mother Earth.
We the people.
We the people
more perfect union.
We the people.
Blues for Malcolm X
by Al Young
When I decided to go hear you speak
that week, it was Oakland, it was way out
west, it was long before Blue Tooth tech,
it was youth, way beck before the truth
got put on commission. I was older
than the early Sixties, younger than the rain.
It was when a café colleague declined
my invitation for her to join me to catch you
that I got it right. She was white.
She declined. She declared: “No, you go.
I don’t think he’ll like me very much.”
My political black friends- none of them
had the time, either. I took the bus.
To bust the chops of the integrationists-
your mission exactly. You carried it out
with charisma and charm. For dignity
and equality you spoke. “I love all black,
brown, red and yellow people, “ you said
at the close of your spellbinding talk.
Then you blew us kisses. This is memory.
Now the very government that shot you
down for dead has made you postage,
stampable, sendable, official at last.
Does this surprise you? Official history
-a snake that hisses, a snake that hushes-
smoothes you out, burnishes. I still prefer
the kids who called you Malcolm Ten.
They didn’t know where to hide you, so
They put you on a stamp. With Booker T.,
Who wouldn’t sit with Woodrow Wilson
And the first Lady at his White House Dinner,
You wanted us to separate and split.
And that was it: You, Malcolm X, would fix
The system with the ballot or the bullet
May these blues clarify your red position.
My Lowell High School
1960 as recalled in 2014
by JUDITH LEVY-SENDER
I pass my old school in iconic Haight Ashbury
named after James Russell Lowell, now John Adams Adult School.
Across the street I go to the Bread and Butter Café and drink Fiji water, and eat an avocado and cream cheese sandwich on a sesame bagel.
It used to be a pharmacy, and still has the remnants of wood and brass drawers.
We used to sit at the soda fountain on red leather seats like the other high school jerks,
I sipped my coffee black while they drank colas. We all smoked, some pretending to be Bohemians.
Governor Pat Brown, Carol Channing, Stephen Breyer went to Lowell, too.
It was like Boston Latin, Creme de la Creme of Academe.
Then came the iconoclasts. Among them one married a writer, Sender, the other a Steinbeck.
A whole testy zoo of us caught between superciliousness and depression,
who followed teachers such as Mr. Mason: sensual-lipped, bald T.S. Eliot bespectacled, WWII veteran, married to Colette from Paris.
He let us hide from the cheerleading rallies at lunch, the footballers and acolytes who yelled "Yay, Yay, Indians!”
I called out the racist mascot, later to be banished, in a ”California Tomorrow” article.
Our enclave studied every slanted rhyme and synecdoche, crafting poems, playing guitars and banjos in room 313.
We were children of Unitarian ministers, civil rights advocates, psychiatrists who authored for example: "The Quest for Identity."
One day after school, we read to Mr. Mason a summary of our final essays, such as mine about
"The Four Loves “by C.S. Lewis," "Cry the Beloved Country," by Alan Paton, "Sons and Lovers" by D.H. Lawrence and Erich Fromm's "The Art of Loving."
In my head I imagined a kiss from our balding genius.
After school we students "wondered and wandered" through Hayes-Masonic half-deserted streets
to the local Chinese tea-room up the next block where we pondered life over green tea leaves and Chow Mein and mused about whether "the world would end in ice or in fire…” and “favored those who wanted desire."
That spring of ’60 we wore pleated bandstand skirts, black turtlenecks, leather bracelets, pirate buckled shoes and pink lipstick.
Then there were the weekends for study and for fun.
Some students would go see "Psycho "with Bill Gold in his white jaguar or
if you belonged to my group,
readings at City Lights,
pepper our language with French or lines from Ferlinghetti, Kerouac or Ginsberg..
Where is that coterie, those friends in quest of identities – today all septuagenarians?
Where is that "lost generation"
COME, BEAST WITH ME (for Michael, Diane, Q.R., and Lawrence)
by D.S. Black
Go Beast, old man — she told me.
That’s easy for you to say
I’m not gonna mince meaning
Beauty and the ineffable F-word
effin jay-walkin’ mask-talkin’
lockdown a knock-in not mockin’
these rockem-sockem turn-style live
streaming xylophone teeth-gleam
missed opportunities squandered
bored game’s imitation of life
I heard the beast call, and I heed it.
Meat science, companies of flesh, gourds of
tears cellared for years
For the love of catacombs and Amontillado
the Beast Poet deposed in surly repose
a deep draft unchained released from encrustations of
nitre a gaseous tag cloud of nitrous released from a
cylindered whippet on a late crisis actor’s cakewalk.
Beast crawl calling out my meat, my not-so inner aminal
Did I misspeak, did a word come out edgewise
inverted, transposed, syllables flapping in the breeze?
Whatever you do: do not call the po-lice.
A sip from the Silver Age and
The centuries surround me with fire
sighed Mandelstam, his fate sealed
by Stalin a ruthless man of steel
when the time comes
I hear the owl call my name
I heard the beast call, and I heed it.
Now more so than ever. Fire is a rival
fleets in on its own course and trajectory
catalyzed by incivil disconnect
the environment the noo-bios-fear
contagious disdain for knowledge
the avarice of housing and coddling
clueless rich not to mention
the forgetting of tree wisdom.
We’re in a time on a decisive cusp it’s
recuperation or I dare not say
(terminal devastation?) rejecting the rapture the
b.s. of nothing doing (that is: fuck everything)
a way of life, a given that is not begotten just as
a cotton mist lazes into view.
Feathers of Gold
by Anna Scotti
Last night you came to me, barefoot,
nightgown damp and twisted with sleep,
and said you’d lost a thing with four rooms
and no doors. That’s easy, I said. Your heart.
Last night you turned, pushing the dark
from your eyes with both fists –I’m calling and
calling but only my own voice answers - and I
smoothed the blankets around you and whispered
echoes on water, feathers of gold. Last night
you muttered, an acorn, a chestnut, and many eyes,
but cannot see, and I knew that you would cry
out, still trembling from dreams of sphinxes
and corridors, deserts, hot breath. Hush, I told
you. Never. Forever. The ocean. I will.
Diary of an Insomniac
by (Hediana Utarti)
The snore goddesses are neglecting me
Maybe juggling hails left by the storm is more thrilling
than flying over to my roof sprinkling sleeping dust
I lay awake waiting, searching for the tip of their long scarves
slithering in the purple sky
I’m counting to thousands
Running out of dreams to dream
Foghorn echo, vanishing and,
the five-dollar clock ticking, stabbing my ears.
A crow flies out of my worn-out blanket
disappears into the ceiling
I see you, by the door
In your suit, ready to go
It is 2am and the winter rain fall endlessly on the asphalt--
bright under street lights--stoic, stark, lifeless
On tv, the kids who lost their limbs in war smile faintly
The gaze of abandoned dogs, empty
The crow slides back onto my desk
Holding a fortune cookie in its beak
Pronouncing “you will be showered with riches someday”
You fade away
The clock thumps
Battered my bones
Tell me tell me what you demand,
you who sit on my bed and breathe on my faceright when my eyelids fall.Is that you, who scream into my ears, shake me with force,And throw me to the gloomy hallway where I could see your shadow sometimesHave you lived here long time, hey Muse?Will you let me doze off tonight for once?
Let me descend into that deep pondinto its swirl, endless, boundless,where I can see the eyes of the fish, eels and wormlight up just like the stars.
Lady, in the abyss I’m content,
will you be tempted to come?
by Karla Clark
Black is not//a bad word
bad Black is//not a word
Black is//a word//not bad//
not a word//bad//is Black
a Black word//bad is not
a Black word//is not//bad
Black bad//is a word not//
Black not bad//is a word
not bad a Black word//is
Black not a bad word//is
bad not is//a word//Black
Black//is bad//not a word
Black//a word//is not//bad
not bad a word//is Black
not a Black word//is bad//
is a Black not bad//word//
Black is a//not bad//word
a Black word//is not bad
Black is not //a bad world
by Keeley Finn
Pigeons aren’t afraid
Not when humans scatter
Hide their faces
And throw breadcrumbs
Pigeons aren’t afraid
The humans are lonely
Walking solo, suddenly interested
In the business of the birds
Pigeons aren’t afraid
They don’t run from humans
Humans barely walk
Pigeons aren’t afraid
Their lives are better
Not like the humans
Doomed looks under masks
Pigeons aren’t afraid
Where are the humans?
No more bread crumbs
No more scattered pairs
Pigeons aren’t afraid
Pigeons are still here
WTF 2020?!: A Neighborhood Anthem
by MERCILEE JENKINS
Nobody cries as loud or laughs as hard.
Nobody knows how to celebrate like we do.
Give us a reason and we bring out the pots n’ pans
We bang until those who don’t understand, complain.
We hope to wake the dead because the shadows of so
many young men walk with us and they feel “mighty real.”
My neighborhood knows how to throw a party
in the darkest hour to provide care, we clean up
our own messes, but we can set the town on fire
when we’re wronged. We bring out wedding dresses
and give them away when we are allowed to marry.
We love a parade, a march, a picnic, a dance, a speech
over a wonky speaker on a truck and will drink champagne
out of a paper bag when our team wins, our candidate,
our country decides to give a damn about queers,
Black citizens, immigrants and those who are dying
of this plague. There will be others.
The Castro knows how to put up a stage, put up a fight,
light a candle and never stop flying our freak flag.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence guide the way.
We know how, and it hurts plenty, but once in a rainbow moon
I can open my front door and hear the roar of pure joy.
Special thanks to Sylvester for his song, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).”
THIRTY-SOMETHING LOVIN' Part 2
by JOANNA LAMB
To let yourself be loved
is hard sometimes.
Want and doubt--
Welcome, delight, push out.
What is for really real, to learn
but to let someone know you.
"Me? You like me?"
The most excruciating exquisite
Their eyes, in your own-- their heart, in your home.
Suddenly you find a window that wasn't there before.
An awning under which a pause feels infinite.
An unexpectedly soft bed.
Love teaches you to be human-- to know touch.
Invitation to Dance
by JEAN LOURA
I am signaling you through
the light of consciousness
shining on truth
Poetry grants free form
to express yourself
in words arranged
as poets dance with them
finding ways to bend
sway quiver reel
exult swing and fall
down below ground
rise up through moon clouds
and beam back again
Poets are astronauts
of the mind
they are healers
somehow making sense
of indecipherable existence
March 1, 2021
- after Ferlinghetti
by Sharon Elswit
the raccoons were planning
to try the doorknob with their clever thumbs
and gain entrance
as soon as it got dark
but he failed to lock the door
so as not to frighten us,
a definitive click
would alert us to dangers
perhaps in the very construction of the wooden door itself.
Those same raccoons distracted us by day
hanging upside down
curled into balls
hairs sticking out like hedgehogs as they cupped
round the swinging birdfeeder
and thrust their heads in
to steal peanut butter and seeds left for phoebes
but it was a trick
Now they take turns, the raccoons
stretch out toenails and balance on hind feet
grasp and shift the doorknob
to the left, to the right
They grow more massive on the porch
It was his job to tell us and instead
he left the door unlocked
The raccoons will enter without knocking
leave yellow crystals
with the stench of subway corners and
it won’t feel like our home again for a long long time
ghazal for asian americans
by Karina Fantillo
laid transcontinental railways crouched as denied americans
skin reeks of manure from stables where resided americans
raised to bow or pagmamano our elders not knock
them down like mahjong from behind in america
disease helixes fevered globe gagging gasps
a virus isn’t chinese, asian or mine, america
no yellow bellies, we stand bruised indigo to stop
hiss on spider silk hair as slanted eyes blind america
i was a dear little girl, white woman clutched her child’s
hand when in my brown face she couldn’t find america
by Julia Vinograd
I’m drunk of fire-hydrants, doorways and cockroaches.
I washed down winos on the rocks with a twist of the blues
I’m sloshed on the undiluted streets.
I’ve been gulping down high rises, neon-lit martinis
and ambulance stingers.
A spare dime bobs in my glass like an olive.
I’ve drunk the drawn beer of a knife and got wasted on garbage.
I’ve been tossing off rip-offs and giving my gullet
The nice warm glow of a burn job with a chaser of screams.
Tomorrow I’ll have a hangover
and they’ll call it a city.
From a A Symphony for Broken Instruments, Zeitgeist Press
UPON HEARING A RECORDING
At the Exploratorium
by Tamsin Smith
I am listening to Muriel Rukeyser
Conjugating water into wine
À la paramecia amid the pop and hiss
Of other poetical scientists
Something about cilia-surrounded horns
Makes me strain for Bunk Johnson
See I’d spit teeth to learn the trumpet
Or meet the high priestess of soul
Who would never surrender the sound of her own
Ache to feel less alone
Secure in her lady slipper self
Never forcing the choice
Between waiting or running
Or acting like you’ve won
Like President Eileen Myles
In her White House without homelessness
A poet in every pot
Not wandering lonely or mild
She raised a platform for two women loving
A female face to grace a greenback
But hey I have wives too
More money than currency
And a sterling child
Who gives thanks for winter
Doesn’t need a metonym
Or stand in religion
For certain people
Certainly those certain people
You miss even as you meet them
Wishing you could never leave and keep on
Your card said manifest
A there-there as Gertrude Stein observed
The language we all speak
Repeats but did you
Mean it when you said the words
You’d give up
Oysters just for me
A ritual to be now and new
Happy on this stage in realization
Color is nothing but a confusion of light
Glory to be book-drunk people-drunk
& pulsing with oblique destiny
Your card said forgiveness
One atom dispersed and another split open
A social algorithm solved
That can’t be sold
Or blown by mere
Slang formed notes
Pulled apart in segments
A peel of hot brass
Nostalgia for tomorrow-
I am so-so
Grateful for this life
Football: An Elegy
by ART GOODTIMES
Our kind. American futbol. It’s just the latest New
World incarnation of a millennia-old tradition of
ulama. The ball game. Ritual play’s addiction to
rough & tumble. Mock warriors. Mock war & at
times more. As sometimes I still can’t chill & skip
what the SF Chronicle of my youth used to call the
Green Pages. Rooting for McElhenny & Tittle, Rice
& Montana. Kaepernick. Following whoever’s drafted
Traded up or traded off. At minimum, the stats. Who’s
hot? My late buddy and Sixties San Fran roustabout
Steverino loved football. Much as he did his rituals
The day’s hot bath, first sip of latte, his pre-teaching loaf
with the Seattle Times. Sports section. And so, at the end
I was honored to be taking quiet turns at his home hospice
Skybox. Having arrived late. His whispered greetings un-
intelligible. Turned out that the Seahawks pre-Thanksgiving
game came to be our last share together. Day or so before he
died. Playing the Niners. My hometown team versus his
adopted Seahawks. The haven he’d found in the Pacific
Northwest. Kicking ass. “Blessedly quick” His win. Our loss
By Wanda Sabir ©2020 All rights reserved
We are the girls who get up when pushed down
Shake off the pain and keep walking ignoring the blood dripping from ripped shirt
Taking off the offensive item
Our shame in the dirt where we drop it
In the dust
The clouds a place to hide until we can re-member where we placed our hearts
We are the girls who grit our teeth to keep our tongues from jumping out of our mouths
We are so full of ourselves we have to open channels so that we don’t explode
Fly and try to remember boundaries
Limitations and rules adults press like gravity
When we’re into grace and gratitude and escape
We are the girls who don’t have addresses
Girls you can’t find
Girls you’d better appreciate now, ‘cause ya blink and it might be forever
We are that impossible to grasp
That is a problem
We are the girls who abhor reformation
We like flying instead of walking
Leaping and singing instead of sleeping
We lay me down to sleep when we die and not a second before
We too busy thinking and plotting and planning our future to doze off
We the girls who get sent to the office
Learn to smoke cigars with the principal
And blow smoke and laughter in teachers’ faces
We are the smart girls
We are the girls who figure it out long before the answer is discovered
We only ask for a small royalty cut
We are the girls who know her worth and make a world pay and pay and pay
We not taking any checks
Gold, silver and . . . pearls
We like the trade
We are the mean girls
We are the girls that will cut your throat before you think about cutting ours
It’s easier that way, ‘cause we are the kind of girls you either love or hate
The binary is hella clear
We step over the dead,
Burying our secrets with the slain
We travel light and don’t allow hitchhikers
We are not into charity and well, if we have enough to share--
We probably won’t
Yeah, we that girl!
We hard ‘cause we learned drinking formula, the formula
Even family is unreliable
Family can hurt you worse that an enemy
Something about the blood
The way family organs are stitched together along a seam (that fits perfectly next to kin)
Carry a seam ripper and amputate it before it atrophies
A prosthesis is better than gangrene
Cut your loses
‘Cause the world ain’t feeling no pussy cat
Wear your armor, cause the armor gets respect and respect spends a lot further than
Fear is an even better deal, but fear is hard to sustain
Ammunition is expensive
And then you need a firing range and ducks
We are the girls who give birth to themselves
Who never had a mama
Who don’t miss what they never had
Mean girls make it rain, so carry an umbrella.
We are the girls who live in cars
Who walk the streets
Who ride BART all night
Whose looks will rip your heart out
We are the girls wishing for a bit of peace
But all we find is trouble
We are the girls who call home and hang up before there is an answer
We are the girls who erase memories
And feel so alone
We are the girls who can’t forget and can’t forgive
We are the mean girls
Tough and strong and invincible
Between layers insecurely latched
“Mean girl” is a persona that can’t last
PANDEMIC POEM 3
by Richard Ivenhoe
We’re still here, but it’s getting old.
Cajoled to follow the rules we were told,
Living our lives within our own household.
We’ve been with this pandemic for almost a year.
So far, we’ve been able to persevere,
But it’s time to breathe in a new atmosphere.
Is that light ahead at the end of the tunnel?
Or will it narrow to the wrong end of a funnel?
Are we making progress, or just befuddled?
Vaccines have been rolling out,
But my anti-vax friends have been sowing some doubt.
And I can understand what they’re talking about.
The vaccines have only been approved for experimental use.
With pesticides and chemical additives still on the loose
Should more foreign substances into me be introduced?
The government lied about Iraq, and about Vietnam,
Ignored white supremacists—said terrorists only come from Islam
They said we’re really a peaceful nation—just study the psalms.
Who can we trust, and under what conditions?
Still, I want to see this coronavirus in full remission.
So, poke me with that needle, you have my permission.
What can we do after we’ve been injected, protected, no fear of infected?
If you think life will return to the way it was, you need to be corrected.
The virus remains contagious and still needs to be respected.
We still need to keep our distance and wear our masks
As we start emerging and return to our old tasks
What else can we do? About time you asked!
Risk reduction is what we’re now defining
It’s still wise to avoid indoor dining
Being outdoors is still safer, and less confining
Stay away from large groups, still avoid travel
Do whatever you can so our progress won’t unravel
Being careful a little longer will win this battle
Shot one is done, I’m awaiting shot two
Supplies are short, what can I do?
Just stay patient, we’ll eventually get through
Seems like this poem never ends, it just goes on and on
It’s ok to be tired, it’s ok to yawn
Bear with me now, as we await the new dawn.
by KATE MCCARROLL MOORE
Do you remember that moment?
I was living in the city with that boy.
The one you hated.
(By the way, you were right about him)
One particular day, I came home to a dark apartment.
Nothing eat. I scraped together some change from the bottom
of my bag, his coat pocket, the dark recesses of the Goodwill
couch. It was dark, the rain coming down in loud brown sheets of
sorrow. I walked to the corner market, cursing the rain and him.
The fluorescent aisles were eerily empty. I rounded a corner to low
voices. Two men talking. One of them was you, Daddy. There you
stood, a salesman in a raincoat and fedora dripping rain. So out of place-
both of us. Our eyes met.
Even now, my heart leaps, my throat catches. Your eyes meet mine,
for a moment only. Silence. Sorrow. I turn away. The moment
becomes the moment. Unspoken.
Postscript: If I’d left five minutes later, if there’d been enough
to eat, if it wasn’t raining, would the moment have been?
Hard to say.
Would the moment become the moment that became the moment
I grew strong? Silence. Sorrow. Regret.
The strength to walk away.
The sense to leave.
How Superman became Cholco
by HAROLD TEREZON
Around the time the phone rang
& your mom still hadn’t returned
from Bakersfield, you tied two corners
of a yellow towel around your neck.
Y ZAS! like the wind
you were around the living room,
the kitchen, in the bathroom, up the table,
on the walls. You ran so fast you disappeared
in the backyard, except for el copete,
it skipped across the top of weeds
like a porcupine racing on a pogo stick.
I tried calling el coyote in Tijuana, but
you reappeared, I couldn’t hear the where
or when, ni mangos con tanta bulla
with your flying past the moon,
past staws, maws, moh-cue-wee, & bluto.
While your dad unpacked your pj’s,
in your red superman fruit-of-the-loom
& x-ray eyes, you declared the house
an evil-free area cus el essuperman
es here. As I backed out of the driveway,
you stood con la panza all out, barefoot,
top of the sofa, hands to the air, Up up
& away showing tus chiches & ombligo
& when you woke up the next morning
to see your mom & dad off to work,
you were all happy, cholco with all
your missing teeth cradled in your hands.
chiu where you parked your car
by Ali Chiu
Chiu shines this white skin i wear everyday like a shirt tail sticking it’s tongue out at people just regular people living their regular lives high & low definitions of belong & betray
Chiu written on the clipboard i wait for the 2nd dose of vaccine with every other mask covering faces all wishing for a painless quiet pencil prick just real fast move along chit-chatless kind of thing not even a ban-aid because that takes too long
Chiu, oh how long have you lived in San Francisco? bouncy voice the hand getting the injection ready oh-most 29 years from imported toothpaste i hiss maybe my attractive $20 ROSS sunglasses and battered white cane made his voice even more bouncy today oh? so general hospital windows looked like this 29 years ago? tapping the wall poster hand asking still bouncy song edge of bubbley gong
Chiu i carry my ID flatten you do know i can’t see pulling my inner ears close is this a game show i hear everyday questions over and over again meaning only to the questioners box 1 box 2 box 3 skin colors names hair curly straight disabled why so complicated
Chiu laughing co-worker behind forgive him this guy is oh legally blind he meant no harm of course only meant to put down the vaccine hand put down all the same oh, no offense taken i have to be nice so y’all won’t hurt me more with that needle but i’ll be nasty later flat flat flat no surprises ban-aid now
Chiu please take a seat walk you out in 15 bouncy dude where did you live before moving to San Francisco? just won’t give up his box-ing chase i knew he really wanted to ask where i am REALLY from San Mateo i finally smile after the ban-aid’s on solid
Chiu my lasting name till the day box i in with mama earth why my skin my tongue don’t match boxes and shapes but why all the questions & questions & questions don’t the world know by now a day of getting the 2nd dose of vaccine should just be a day of getting the 2nd dose of vaccine
Chiu, where you parked your car?